RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For the past five years, the number of people dying in car crashes in Wake County has continued to increase, even during years when the number of crashes went down, according to crash data from 2018 to 2022.
There’s a unit at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office devoted to reducing the number of serious and deadly crashes in the county.
A CBS 17 crew rode along with Deputy Beckley Vaughan, a member of the sheriff’s office Crash Reduction Unit.
“What I’m doing now is basically just riding with the flow of traffic in the right lane looking for anything that’s egregious, looking for anything that may stand out,” Vaughan said.
The unit is finishing its second year, after receiving funding from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. Vaughan said he’s one of two deputies assigned to the unit, and there’s a third open position.
According to the sheriff’s office, the unit accounts for about one-third of the agency’s traffic stops. The department presented the numbers in an update to the Wake County Board of Commissioner’s Public Safety Committee last week.
When CBS 17 rode along with Deputy Vaughan he stopped drivers going 109 miles per hour, 89 miles per hour, and 80 miles per hour — during rush hour.
“He’s not reckless by any means, but he’s much faster than the flow of traffic,” Vaughan said about the driver going 80 mph. “And these are some of the people that we do want to stop, make them aware of what they’re doing get them to slow down.”
The unit has also made more than 100 felony arrests, according to the sheriff’s office.
“It’s not unusual to come out here and take a traffic stop and turn into somebody that is trafficking in some type of illegal or narcotic, wanted persons, fugitives,” Vaughan said.
Numbers from the Wake County Sheriff’s Office show a decline in serious crash injuries from 2021 to 2022, going from 424 to 409, but an increase in fatalities going from 102 to 118.
Across categories — like fatalities from speeding and impaired driving — the number of fatalities did not decline between the two years.
CBS 17 asked Vaughan if he thinks the work the unit is doing given that fatalities did not decline.
“Well, it’s definitely having an impact,” Vaughan said. “I mean, as you saw just a few minutes ago, we stopped a 23-year-old driver with a suspended driver’s license for a traffic-related offense — they were traveling 109 miles per hour on the Raleigh Beltline.”
He said the unit stops drivers who normally wouldn’t be stopped.
Vaughan believes more drivers started speeding during the COVID-19 pandemic when the roads were empty and have never slowed down since.
“You may not be the person that’s driving that fast, but you may be the person that suffers the result of somebody going that fast, and that’s what we want to, you know, we want to be able to put a stop to that,” Vaughn said.
The Crash Reduction Unit also participates in statewide initiatives like “Click It or Ticket” and delivers safety presentations to high school students.
A spokesperson for the Wake County Sheriff’s Office said the grant from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program is a three-year grant that the agency had to reapply for each year. It expires in the fall of 2024.
The spokesperson said the grant isn’t a set number and included money for vehicles, start-up costs, and part of the unit members’ salaries.